UA Distinguished Professor Dennis Ray will lead the effort of breeding guayule, a rubber-producing plant suited for arid environments, to achieve higher yields and reduced harvest cycle time. Tech Launch Arizona, a technology commercialization center at the UA, assisted with this partnership.
Much more suited for arid environments than rubber trees, the guayule plant is a promising candidate for more sustainable, high-yield natural rubber production. UA Distinguished Professor Dennis Ray is an expert in guayule breeding and crop improvement. Yulex Corporation, an agricultural-based biomaterials company, will provide the University of Arizona a $3 million, five-year grant focused on breeding and agronomic development of the guayule plant, which holds great promise for the sustainable production of biorubber for medical, consumer and industrial applications.
Dennis Ray, a University Distinguished Professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a world-recognized guayule expert, will lead the effort to produce a higher yielding rubber crop and to substantially decrease guayule's harvest cycle time. Yulex and the UA will apply classical breeding along with modern tools for marker-assisted breeding to Guayule lines to select traits for the crop improvement program. Ray's research interests focus on evaluating new crops and products for cultivation and processing in arid environments.
The UA has supported Phoenix-based Yulex since the company's inception. Yulex's first experimental crops were planted on the grounds of the campus, and the University substantially contributed to Yulex's agronomic development successes.
More than 2,000 rubber-producing plants are known, but only two have been used commercially: the well-known rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, and guayule (Parthenium argentatum). Guyaule is an industrial crop that does not compete against food or fiber crops. It is a renewable source of natural rubber latex that can replace petroleum-based synthetics, lessen reliance on imported tropical rubber, and requires relatively little water with no pesticides. Guayule has been known as a source of rubber since the pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico used it to form balls for their games.
"The UA has a long and storied history of working on the development of guayule as a new industrial crop for Arizona," said Ray, who holds a joint appointment in the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment. "That there is now a guayule industry is due in part to the work of a number of UA researchers over the past 20 years, and that I have been part of this work is very exciting and fulfilling."
"Commercial production of guayule was always our goal, and we look forward to a continued and productive collaboration with Yulex Corporation, the world leader in developing different biomaterials from guayule. The goal of our work will be to increase the rubber content in Yulex's guayule lines and to decrease the time to harvest to help in the sustainable cultivation of guayule in Arizona."
Yulex Corporation has developed a portfolio of biomaterials derived from the U.S. guayule plant. The company's innovative materials are designed to replace traditional tropical or petroleum based rubber for consumer, industrial and medical markets, with the residual agricultural materials utilized as a feedstock for bioenergy. Yulex collaborates with customers to develop and market highly differentiated, premium performance products in an ecologically responsible, sustainable manner.
"Yulex is pleased to be providing this grant to the University of Arizona," said Jeff Martin, CEO, president and co-founder of Yulex Corporation. "The University has some of the best breeders in the world, and this grant will enable the most comprehensive breeding program ever undertaken."
"Yulex's extensive research and development in plant breeding, agronomic best practices and harvest technologies are fundamental to the continued advancement of guayule as a new industrial crop and to the expansion of our global licensing program," Martin added.
Tech Launch Arizona, or TLA, a technology commercialization center at the UA, assisted with this partnership. Licensing manager Tod McCauley reflected on the collaboration involved in bringing Yulex into a partnership with UA. "The heavy lifting was done by UA's Office of Research and Contract Analysis, as Dick Haney did the services agreement," McCauley said. "I have been involved from the beginning supporting progress. Dr. Ray really deserves a lot of credit as it was his vision. I think back to the first meeting with Yulex to discuss this idea, and now it's very nice to see it come to fruition."
TLA was designed to consolidate the UA's efforts related to moving knowledge and inventions from campus to market. By facilitating the transfer of discoveries at the UA into intellectual property, inventions and technology, TLA provides a robust entrepreneurial approach to company start-ups and technology investment.
This story originally appeared in UA News with reporting by Daniel Stolte.